Hard-Hitters of '08 (In order of expected release dates, sort of):
Katt Williams' rap debut
The pint-size pimp of the comedy world is branching out to rap with his debut album It's Pimpin' Pimpin', set for a January 28 release on Diplomat Records. What Money Mike lacks in lyrical complexity he makes up for with consistent humor and well-chosen collaborations (minus Da Brat, please stay in the 90's). Pimpin' ain't easy, but it sure is funny for Katt.
One of the most overlooked MCs of our time, Nas' right-hand man AZ will put out his 7th solo album in the first quarter entitled Undeniable. Expect the Brooklyn native's sure-fire delivery and illustrious verses to flow heavily on the East Coast.
The legendary producer that helped define the Big Apple's sound during the 90s will drop NY's Finest next month on Nature Sounds, and the expectations are huge. Known for his excellent selection for guests over his soul-laced sampling not to mention his own microphone mathematics, Pete enlisted the help of Styles P, Ghostface, Redman, Slum Village, and Phonte among others for what should be a bona fide treat.
Nicolay & Kay
Straight out the Netherlands and now reppin' NC, Nicolay began as an eclectic producer and now runs his own record label. For his next effort, Nic teamed up with Texas rapper Kay in an intriguing intersection of hip-hop flavors. The LP, Time:Line, will drop next month and I'm expecting live instrumentation and neck-snapping drum sequencing from Holland's top-notch hip-hop export.
This one is an obvious pick. When Queensbridge vet Nas stirred up controversy by naming his newest solo LP Nigger, I deduced that this album will either prove he is a brilliant contemporary mind or bite him right in the ass for thinking the masses could possibly embrace the idea behind the title. Either way, all eyes will be on him in February.
Has anyone else noticed the self-proclaimed "best rapper alive" hasn't released an actual CD since '05? Wayne's overexposure in the media, mix-tape circuit and gossip circles is borderline sickening to the point where he should be dubbed the "guest rapper alive" instead. But, between all the nonsense, the boy from 'Nawlins does put out enough quality product to keep real heads interested. Tha Carter III is the most severly hyped disc next to Detox but the difference is that Dre's won't see the light of day this year (we'll get to that later).
If there existed an award for best timing for implementation of the Vocoder voice, the Doggfather would take the cake; plus, Snoop is so damn likable and downright entertaining that only he could pull off a video like "Sexual Eruption." The Long Beach, Cali superstar has been honing his skills behind the production boards for his 9th LP Ego Trippin', which is slated for a March release and rumored to feature collabs with Madonna and the Rolling Stones' lead-man Mick Jagger. Please Mr. Broadus, show these young'ns how it's done!
It was J Dilla's wish to put fellow Motor City brethren Guilty Simpson on the map. Though he can't be here to witness it, Dilla would be proud that March 2008 marks his homeboy's first LP Ode to the Ghetto on underground imprint Stones Throw Records. Boasting a solid production line-up of Madlib, Black Milk, Mr. Porter, DJ Babu and Dilla himself, expect raw content and boom-bap ballistics on Guilty's debut.
Kidz in the Hall
Naledge and Double-O met at UPenn, graduated, and now have full-time jobs. Though it's not your traditional 9-5, the rappers known as Kidz in the Hall work just as hard as any cubicle clone. 2006's School Was My Hustle gained recognition as critics compared their style to MCs in the conscious rap circle. Their sound has changed slightly since then, adapting to commercial interests but clinging to the lyrical intelligence and golden era appreciation that separates the Kidz in the Hall from the boys on the block. The duo's new disc, The In Crowd, will drop in April. Here's one more reason to stay in school, junior.
The group that originated the hip-hop organic jazz band sound should release their 10th studio album Rising Down sometime this year, most likely in the first half. Drummer ?uestlove is pumped, telling AllHipHop.com, "I’m amped that not many groups get ten opportunities to make a statement. Not even Hip-Hop, just period. You can’t even count ten records from the same group, that much, maybe on a few fingers. We’re very fortunate, and happy, and we are definitely pushing our envelope again.” Expect more synth and keyboard experimentation but I predict the foundation of ?uest's drums, Black Thought's vocal onslaught, Kamal's ivory tickling and Hub's bass grooves to drive this one.
Sneak Peak (from Superbad's soundtrack since no tracks have leaked yet):
After witnessing Matisyahu's live show, I gained a newfound respect for his music and message. The Deadhead-turned-Chassidic Jew reggae star combines spiritual concepts with island-type riddims and enthralling guitar riffs for a unique fusion of reggae, rock and hip-hop influences. Not much is known about his 3rd disc, except that it is untitled and should come out this year on JDub/Or Music/ Epic. The sneak peak here is a 2006 Swisha House remix to Matis' hit "Jerusalem," a personal favorite of mine.
2007 brought an end to the label troubles plaguing brothers Gene "Malice" Thornton and Terrence "Pusha T" Thornton, collectively called the Clipse, as the dynamic duo landed a deal with Columbia last October. Since then, the complex coke-rap connoisseurs have been promoting their upcoming mixtape with partners-in-rhyme Ab-Liva and Sandman, altogether known as the Re-Up Gang, called We Got It 4 Cheap Vol. 3 The Spirit of Competition (We Just Think We're Better). After that, the Thornton Bros are set to drop their Columbia debut later in the year sans the assistance of long-time collaborators The Neptunes - it will be interesting, indeed.
ATLiens Big Boi and Andre 3000 have been grinding heavily since the mid-90s, experimenting with untraditional topics and branching out for crossover appeal, but 2008 could be their busiest year to date. Big Boi confirmed in December his intent to put out his first truly solo disc (Speakerboxxx & Love Below were released together, technically) tentatively titled Sir Luscious Left Foot and wanted to release his first single on News Year's Eve but as far as I know that didn't happen. Still, Big Boi claims that the album is almost completed so fans will most likely have a taste quite soon. As far as Andre, he too expressed intentions to drop a solo album this year but has yet to reveal any details. As a grand finale, the two want to make an Outkast LP before the year is up. Personally, I doubt that all three projects will come to fruition but if there's any two dudes in the industry that could pull it off, it'd be these two. Still, I wouldn't bet your hard-earned paper on it.
Al Green & ?uestlove
Two great modern music minds in soul legend Al Green and Roots rhythm man ?uestlove have been in the studio for about 2 years working on an upcoming album on Blue Note Records. ?uestlove is the primary producer, hoping to give Green the sonic counterpart to break the mold of "adult contemporary" old-and-young collaboration albums and make soulful crooning and old school R&B relevant for today's youth that might not have heard of Al Green.
Child Rebel Soldier (Kanye West, Pharrell Williams, & Lupe Fiasco)
Though collectively they've only released one song, Child Rebel Soldier (CRS) has great potential if the three parties can find the time to record an album. Kanye, Pharrell & Lupe compliment each other well but this project is up in the air to say the least.
Talk about unsigned hype. Cosigned by super-producer Mark Ronson, the D.C.-bred Wale (pronounced Wah-lay for the lames out there) is a brand new look for a supposedly dead genre. Picture a dude harder than Lupe or Common, clever like Lil' Wayne or Cam'ron, and conscious like Kweli or Kanye and you have the game's freshest face that effectively combines hip-hop with the Capital City's go-go energy. Now all he needs is a record contract, then it's off to the races.